In place of politics (strictly construed), Williamson offered wise-ass knowingness about the news business, as embodied by a relentlessly self-promoting reporter (Courteney Cox). As for sexual politics--always a key subject in teen-slasher movies--Scream was impressive less for Williamson's script than for Neve Campbell's performance as Sidney Prescott. In keeping with the ambiguous gender of her character's name, the dark and plain-pretty Campbell gave a blunt muscularity to the central role of suffering daughter and uneasy girlfriend. In her monograph Men, Women and Chainsaws, Carol Clover gives such characters the designation of "Final Girl," meaning the one who survives. This tag may prove useful to people who are interested in the rules of the genre. But there are others, both on screen in Scream and its sequels and also behind the camera, who care too much about these rules and so cut off all escape from the fiction. You can no longer look away, as you once could in Shocker, because now the world is the movies.
To be fair to Kevin Williamson, this inward spiral had already begun in Wes Craven's New Nightmare, in which the making of a sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street kicks off further Nightmare on Elm Street horrors. Scream 3, with a screenplay by Ehren Kruger, now gives the screw another turn into the same notch. The conceit: A movie studio is in production on Stab 3, the next film in a series based on the "real" events narrated in Scream. Members of the movie cast start to die, amid much ripping of flesh, and in the same order in which they die in the script. The "real" people may also be targeted. Will Sidney Prescott be among the victims? As a Final Girl, she's supposed to be indestructible. But then, as the most movie-obsessed character explains in mid-narrative, Scream 3 might not be a sequel. It might be the concluding film in a trilogy, in which case even Sidney can die. For most of its audience, which is already huge, Scream 3 will be satisfying precisely because its unpredictability is so reliable. The buxom blonde gets murdered right on schedule, immediately after remarking on the cliché of killing off the buxom blonde. And there's a particularly sadistic element to the death this time: As she prepares to meet the fate of Sarah Michelle Gellar in Scream 2 and Rose McGowan in Scream, former porn star and never-quite-starlet Jenny McCarthy is made to complain, "Jesus, I gotta get a new agent."
Does anything truly unpredictable happen? The film's theme of familial guilt--must Sidney suffer because of her mother's misdeeds?--is surely as formulaic as the killings. So, too, is the snatch of dialogue about movie violence and its influence on the world. But when we get to the specifics--what kind of movie violence?--Scream 3 takes an unexpected turn into truly dark territory.
It's the territory of a Hollywood legend: the myth of the seventies as a wild, creative, sex-and-drug-crazed period that set loose new talents in the movie business. Scream 3 knows better. You might say it's a story about the younger filmmakers (and film watchers) who came of age believing in that myth and so turned into its victims. I don't pretend that the average imdb.com user will read any such meaning intoScream 3; but for those who know how to spell, the letters are there.
And so, too, are some young people who have escaped the Curse of the Seventies. Wes Craven gives them cameo roles: Heather Matarazzo, the brilliant young actress from Welcome to the Dollhouse, who shows up to give Neve Campbell a hug, and filmmaker Kevin Smith (of Dogma), who goes wandering by with his constant onscreen partner Jason Mewes. By putting these people into Scream 3, the old genre-master pays respect, affectionately and perhaps wistfully, to those young filmmakers who live outside genre.
One of them even gets a bigger-than-cameo role: Parker Posey, queen of the indies, whose rampaging performance is the most untamed element of Scream 3. Posey plays the actress in Stab 3 who impersonates "real life" reporter Gail Weathers. As Gail, Courteney Cox is already a caricature, all bones and hair, caffeine and adrenaline. Posey puts herself shoulder-to-shoulder with Cox and italicizes everything her counterpart does. This is bad acting elevated to good modern dance. For as long as it goes on, the month's most popular movie really is a scream.